Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who voiced Muppets favorite Kermit the Frog, is still confused why Disney ended his 39-year career without at least giving a the chance to correct his ways. According to the puppeteer, he was let go after he expressed disagreement with some of the changes being made to the character, which he felt were against Muppets creator Jim Henson’s original vision. Disney and The Muppets Studio, however, claimed that they decided to terminate Whitmire because of his “unacceptable business conduct.”
When Disney fired him last October, Steve Whitmire shared that they gave him two reasons why they decided to hire a new voice actor for Kermit the Frog: He was “disrespectful” in voicing his opinions during the Muppets reboot on ABC and a union disagreement. Whitmire told the Hollywood Reporter that Disney accused him of being disrespectful to a small group of top creatives during the show. Although he has always been outspoken and took pride in getting involved in the creative process, Whitmire insisted that he treated everyone with respect.
Given that Muppets creator Jim Henson entrusted Kermit the Frog to Whitmire, the voice actor added that up to a certain extent, he knows the character better than anybody. Whitmire has been voicing Kermit the Frog since Henson’s death in 1990.
For instance, when he was going over a script for the short-lived Muppets reboot on ABC, Whitmire didn’t agree that Kermit would lie to his nephew, Robin, about his break-up with Miss Piggy. He pointed out that Kermit is “too compassionate to lie to him to spare his feelings.” Whitmire explained that he was only trying to help by giving them notes.
“I thought I was aiding to keep it on track and I think a big reason why the show was canceled was because that didn’t happen. I am not saying my notes would have saved it, but I think had they listened more to all of the performers, it would have made a really big difference,” he added.
However, a rep from The Muppets Studio told the the Hollywood Reporter that the former Kermit the Frog voice actor was fired because of his “repeated unacceptable business conduct.” Steve Whitmire was allegedly aware of their concerns but failed to address the feedback he was given. Disney and The Muppets Studio also consulted the Henson family and reportedly got their full support to let Whitmire go and find a new voice actor to take over Kermit.
An insider close to the studio also told the website that Whitmire’s “persistent unprofessional behavior” ultimately led to his termination. Whitmire was allegedly “overly hostile and unproductive,” and his way of negotiation only caused delays in productions.
The second issue concerning his termination had something to do with a union issue. Whitmire allegedly refused to work on a particular project, which, according to him, only happened because he got caught in the middle of a dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations.
The former Kermit the Frog voice actor said that he’s still confused why Disney decided to end his 39-year career the way they did.
“I am still trying to make sense of how those two issues were egregious enough to justify ending a 39-year career without at least giving me an ultimatum at the time the issue occurred when I would have had a chance to correct my course,” he explained.
Matt Vogel will take over from Steve Whitmire as Kermit the Frog. Fans will hear his voice for the first time as the character in a “Muppets Thought of the Week” video next week.
[Featured Image by Cindy Ord/Getty Images]